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‘You Are Not Alone’
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‘You Are Not Alone’

President Biden used Wednesday's visit to Israel to reiterate U.S. support for the war-torn nation.

Happy Thursday! Yesterday, Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania cast his vote for former House Speaker John Boehner to retake the gavel. If you listened closely on the House floor, we’re pretty sure you could hear Boehner cackling from an undisclosed location in Ohio. 

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • President Joe Biden visited Israel on Wednesday, where he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a show of solidarity and in effort to forestall a wider regional conflict. Biden backed Israel’s right to defend itself while cautioning against being “consumed” by rage. “After 9/11, we were enraged in the United States,” the president said. “When we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes.” Backed by an independent U.S. intelligence assessment, Biden also concurred with the conclusion reached by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) that an explosion at a hospital in Gaza was not the result of an Israeli strike but rather a rocket fired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a Hamas ally. The president announced $100 million in humanitarian assistance to Gaza and the West Bank as his administration is reportedly drafting a request to Congress for $100 billion in foreign aid—including assistance for Israel. Biden is scheduled to deliver an address to the nation from the Oval Office tonight at 8 p.m. ET, which is expected to focus on the wars in Israel and Ukraine. Meanwhile, U.S. Treasury Department officials targeted Hamas’ funding mechanisms with new sanctions, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a confirmation hearing for former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Biden’s pick to serve as ambassador to Israel, with a vote expected next week to move his nomination to the floor of the Senate.
  • During a visit to Beijing on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters he had ordered Russian fighter jets equipped with hypersonic missiles to perform regular patrols of neutral territory over the Black Sea. “This is not a threat, but we will exercise visual control—control with weapons—over what is happening in the Mediterranean Sea,” Putin said. Of note, the U.S. has moved two carrier strike groups into the Mediterranean in support of Israel in its war against Hamas. 
  • Eight French regional airports—and one in Belgium—were evacuated on Wednesday over security threats, including bomb threats. The Palace of Versailles, a popular tourist attraction, was also closed briefly Wednesday because of a security concern—the third time in a week the venue has been evacuated. The French and Belgian governments raised their national threat levels this week after a knife attack in northern France last Friday left a teacher dead and a suspected Islamic terrorist shot two Swedish nationals in Brussels on Monday. 
  • The Pentagon on Tuesday released footage of what it called “coercive and risky operational behavior by [China’s] People’s Liberation Army (PLA) against U.S. aircraft.” The images and videos show maneuvers by Chinese military planes dating back to January 2022, including flying within 20 feet of U.S. planes and flying just in front of a U.S. aircraft, forcing it to fly through the Chinese plane’s wake turbulence which visibly rocks the cockpit. The Department of Defense said the incidents represent a trend of such risky behavior since late 2021. Meanwhile, the heads of intelligence operations from all five of the “Five Eyes” countries—the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom—released a rare joint statement accusing China of intellectual property theft and significant spying and hacking operations against the five anglophone countries, which share intelligence. 
  • U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) announced Wednesday it had thwarted two drone attacks against U.S. and allied forces in Iraq over the previous 24 hours. The U.S. destroyed one and damaged a second drone in western Iraq, which resulted in some “minor injuries to Coalition forces.” Separately, the U.S. military shot down a single drone in northern Iraq. The drones’ origins are not yet clear. “In this moment of heightened alert, we are vigilantly monitoring the situation in Iraq and the region,” CENTCOM officials wrote in a press release.
  • House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan failed yesterday to become speaker of the House for the second time in two days, receiving only 199 votes of the 217 he needed to win the gavel. After securing 200 votes on Tuesday, Jordan on Wednesday lost four House Republicans who had previously voted for him—though he managed to flip a few detractors into his column. Jordan vowed to stay in the race and is expected to make a third attempt on Thursday. Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks—who voted for Jordan on Tuesday but switched her vote on Wednesday—said she received “credible death threats” following Wednesday’s vote, and other House Republicans not supporting Jordan have complained about an intense pressure campaign from Jordan allies. Jordan condemned those threats last night as “abhorrent,” but some House Republicans are examining ways to elevate Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry to give him all the powers of the office—though it’s unclear whether such a move is possible or likely. 
  • Biden’s nominee to lead the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Michael Whitaker, advanced through the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday with a unanimous voice vote usually reserved for uncontroversial issues. The former United Airlines executive, who served as the FAA’s deputy administrator during the Obama administration, will be voted on in the full Senate in the coming days and is likely to be confirmed.   
  • Former President Donald Trump endorsed West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Wednesday in a blow to GOP Rep. Alex Mooney, the other Republican vying for Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s seat. Manchin has not yet said whether he’ll run for reelection. On Wednesday, Democrat Phil Ehr announced he was ending his bid to unseat GOP Florida Sen. Rick Scott to instead challenge incumbent Republican Rep. Carlos Giménez for Florida’s 28th congressional district. Meanwhile, former Virginia House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn said she’d run to replace Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton after Wexton—diagnosed this summer with progressive supranuclear palsy—announced she would not run for reelection.  

‘You Are Not Alone’

President Joe Biden joins Israel's Prime Minister for the start of the Israeli war cabinet meeting, in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
President Joe Biden joins Israel's Prime Minister for the start of the Israeli war cabinet meeting, in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

On Wednesday evening in Tel Aviv, after a day of meeting with Israeli leadership, President Joe Biden offered a singular message to the people of Israel: “You are not alone,” he said in remarks that were broadcast around the world. “As long as the United States stands—and we will stand forever—we will not let you ever be alone.”

Almost immediately after Air Force One departed, Hamas fired rockets into central Israel, including Tel Aviv. Such has been life in Israel for the past 12 days.

Biden’s trip to Israel yesterday was the first such visit to the country by an American president during a time of war, and it represented his administration’s commitment backing the Israeli government as it responds to Hamas’ terror attacks. That commitment was reiterated on Wednesday, when Biden pushed back against claims—initially made by Hamas and quickly picked up by a number of prominent media outlets—that Israeli forces had struck a hospital in Gaza and killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians. “Based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team,” he said, citing intelligence he had seen from the U.S. Department of Defense. Despite such evidence—which appears to have been corroborated by U.S. defense officials, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and independent military analysts—the explosion and the initial reporting of its cause has led to protests across the Middle East, and appears to have altered the geopolitical calculus of a number of players in the region.

Biden landed in Tel Aviv with two main objectives: to show U.S. solidarity with Israel, and to dissuade leaders in the region from broadening the war between Israel and Hamas into a broader conflict. “I think what the U.S. is trying to do is both to support Israel while at the same time contain the crisis and lower the risks of escalation,” Greg Brew, an analyst at Eurasia Group, told TMD. “In a more private, maybe more behind the scenes way, try to get a sense of what the Israelis are thinking about. Get a sense of the scale of the offensive that they’re planning, put pressure on Israel to ensure that humanitarian aid can get into Gaza. Try to pressure the Israelis to come up with some solution to the refugee problem in Gaza, but also try to restrain the Israelis from launching a full scale offensive that could potentially turn into a prolonged occupation of Gaza.”

The second leg of the trip—which was set to include diplomatic meetings with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian National Authority, King Abdullah II of Jordan, and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt—was canceled entirely just hours before Biden arrived in Israel. The White House stressed that the decision to scratch the events after Tuesday’s hospital explosion in Gaza was a mutual one, but the cancellation represented a significant blow to the Biden administration’s attempts to quell the growing unrest. “The initial reaction to what happened at the hospital put a real dent in Biden’s trip,” said Brew.

The explosion occurred outside the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City on Tuesday night, and Hamas-controlled Palestinian authorities immediately claimed an Israeli airstrike hit the hospital and placed the casualty count near 500 civilians. Several major media outlets—including the Associated Press and New York Times—ran with these claims from Hamas, prompting scathing condemnations from neighboring leaders and protests against Israel to erupt across the Middle East. Within hours, however, Israeli officials—eventually backed by U.S. intelligence assessments—released evidence appearing to attribute the damage to an errant rocket fired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad. By Wednesday morning, evidence also began to emerge showing the rocket had hit a parking lot outside the hospital, not the building itself—and some open-source intelligence analysts believe the destruction is much more indicative of a death count closer to 50, not 500. (After such reporting emerged, we updated yesterday’s TMD, which echoed skepticism about the cause of the explosion being an Israeli airstrike but included early assessments that “hundreds” of civilians may have been killed.) 

“It was malpractice for the media to run with [the Israeli airstrike] story,” Enia Krivine, senior director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Israel Program, told TMD from Tel Aviv, adding that “anyone who knows this issue” is aware that a percentage of rockets misfire in the Gaza Strip. “Everyone just listens to the narrative they’re interested in, and you can’t take something like that back.”

Even as more evidence came through, turmoil surrounding the events continued into Wednesday, which leaders of the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorist organization designated as a “day of unprecedented anger.” While officials continued to examine the origins of the explosion, the damage had already been done. “Even if the evidence comes in, and consensus forms around a new narrative that Israel was not responsible for the explosion,” Brew said, “it’s going to be difficult for the Arab leaders to walk back statements that were that strongly worded—not just because it makes them look a little weak by having to walk back their statements, but [also because it] invites domestic political problems, criticism from their own populations, who in many cases may not believe the new narrative.”

As TMD has previously reported, shifting—or solidifying—Middle Eastern opinion against Israel was likely a motivating factor in Hamas’ initial attack on October 7 and subsequent moves to instigate a larger war. “This is what Hamas is about,” Krivine said. “It’s about frustrating peace. It’s about keeping the conflict alive.”

While Israel might be losing tepid support from its Arab neighbors, Biden’s visit underscored the depth of support Israel has thus far received from the West. “His visit here is an incredible show of solidarity,” Krivine added. “And sure enough, after he made his announcement, French President Emmanuel Macron said he would also come in this week.” Rishi Sunak, prime minister of the United Kingdom, is in Israel today

Although the relationship got off to a rocky start early in his term, Biden’s support for Israel has been unwavering since Hamas’ attacks this month, and his rhetoric has been backed up by the U.S. military. So far, the U.S. has deployed two aircraft carriers and strike groups to the eastern Mediterranean, as well as an amphibious assault ship. The U.S. is also sending munitions to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, and 2,000 U.S. troops are awaiting a potential deployment. Israeli citizens have noticed the flood of support.

“President Biden very clearly got something of a popularity boost inside Israel, because of his very impassioned, very emotional address that he gave in the aftermath of the attack where he expressed very, very strong sympathy for the Israeli people,” Brew said, referencing the speech Biden delivered on October 10. Biden’s continued popularity, however, will rest on how the president continues to support Israel. Already, Brew said, some of Biden’s attempts to temper the conflict have correspondingly tempered Israeli affection. One such effort from Biden came via history lesson: “While you feel that rage, don’t be consumed by it,” the president told Israelis on Wednesday. “After 9/11, we were enraged in the United States. And while we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes.” 

On his flight back to the United States, Biden spoke to Egyptian President el-Sisi, who said he would re-open the shared border with Gaza to allow the inflow of aid and supplies. It was a positive development at the end of a trip reshaped by growing anti-Israeli sentiment in the region following the erroneous reports blaming Israel for the hospital damage in Gaza. But it speaks to the central balancing act faced by the Biden administration: supporting Israel and preventing a wider regional conflict.

“The United States is trying to support Israel, to offer Israel cover from international or local pressure, while at the same time doing what it can to contain the crisis and push Israel towards an exit strategy for all this because that’s ultimately what the U.S. wants,” said Brew. “The U.S. wants this crisis to end, and right now there’s really no end in sight.”

Worth Your Time

  • The Framers wouldn’t be proud of the winner-takes-all, “holy crusade” tenor of our politics, Jay Cost argues in National Review, because it defies how the U.S. system was designed to work. “Republicans and Democrats today conceive of each other as totally, irredeemably corrupted,” he writes in an adapted excerpt from his book, Democracy or Republic: The People and the Constitution. “The two sides fight over everything, large and small, from major problems to utter trivialities. To borrow a phrase from Madison’s Federalist No. 10, ‘where no substantial occasion presents itself,’ they fight tooth-and-nail over ‘the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions.’ The mutual hatred between the Left and the Right leaves little political space for compromise. Fundamentally, they do not wish to compromise; they want to destroy each other. So it is little wonder that our government has been so frequently halted by gridlock. The left and right wish to be hegemonic, but the Constitution is designed to prevent factional hegemons from emerging in our country. If the two sides enter the government not with a spirit of compromise but with a spirit of destruction, they should expect to be blocked at virtually every turn—which is precisely what has happened. This is no way to run a country—any country. But it certainly dooms us to failure under a consensus-based regime like the United States Constitution. If we want to rail against the evils of our opponents for nothing more than the sheer pleasure of the cathartic release, so be it. Nothing will get done while we spew our splenetic bile at one another. But if we actually want to solve problems in this country, we need to recognize that, under our system of government, working together is the only way to do that.”

An Update from the Hill

We joked yesterday that GOP Rep. Mike Garcia appeared to be surprised in the House chamber when his friend, Rep. Jake Ellzey of Texas, named him as his vote for speaker on Tuesday, but Ellzey wrote in yesterday to ensure we knew he’d asked Garcia’s permission before he did it. He may have looked it, but per Ellzey, “Mike Garcia was NOT surprised.”

The Texan voted for his former U.S. Navy buddy again on Wednesday—joining 21 of his GOP colleagues in not supporting Jim Jordan—and the House remains without a speaker.

Presented Without Comment

Jerusalem Post: Historic Front Page Publishes In Honor Of Biden’s Israel Visit

Also Presented Without Comment

The Hill: [GOP Rep. Matt] Gaetz Apologizes to Colleague, ‘Anyone Else Who Felt Targeted’ by Fundraising Email 

Toeing the Company Line

  • Alex explains what we know—and don’t know—about the atrocities Hamas committed in Israel on October 7.
  • In the newsletters: The Dispatch Politics team covers Jim Jordan’s faltering effort to claim the speaker’s gavel, Scott debunks (🔒) the “race-to-the-bottom” myth of globalization, Jonah argues (🔒) “speaking truth to power” is nonsensical, and Nick unpacks (🔒) why so many took Hamas’ claims about the explosion at the hospital in Gaza at face value. 
  • On the podcasts: Jonah talks to Yascha Mounk about his new book, The Identity Trap, while Sarah and David record Advisory Opinions in front of a live audience of University of Virginia law students, tackling Supreme Court manners and ethics, various “-isms,” and why the Fifth Circuit is the new Ninth Circuit.
  • On the site: Charlotte covers Biden’s Israel visit, Mike outlines the latest in the Jim Jordan saga, Kevin examines the media’s credulous handling of the Gaza hospital explosion, Drucker checks in on the DeSantis campaign’s latest endorsements, and Thomas Koenig and Thomas Harvey argue GOP Rep. Mike Gallagher should be Speaker of the House. 

Let Us Know

Do you think the current conflict will be contained to Israel and Hamas, or expand to become a broader regional war?

James Scimecca works on editorial partnerships for The Dispatch, and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he served as the director of communications at the Empire Center for Public Policy. When James is not promoting the work of his Dispatch colleagues, he can usually be found running along the Potomac River, cooking up a new recipe, or rooting for a beleaguered New York sports team.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.